Challenges of burying the dead

By Rev. Fr. Eva Chuma Nnamene

At the death of Jesus, when he hung helplessly on the wood of the cross, and could have been abandoned by his disciples if not for a handful of them, it was Joseph of Arimathea who was identified as "a good and a just man" (Luke 23: 50), and one who longed for the kingdom (Mark 15: 43) who boldly went to Pilate to ask for Jesus' body.

Joined by Nicodemus, a nocturnal disciple of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea had Jesus laid in new tomb he prepared for himself (John 19: 38-42; Luke 23: 53; Mark 15: 46). By so doing, they became exemplars of this laudable corporal work of mercy.

Now there are many social cultural cum religious challenges that arise at burials. This article will just consider few of them:

Challenges arising from identification: Identification is the format by which members of a group are identified as such. This identification can be by way of registration, initiation and other systems.

It is one of the hot spots that generate problems at death. It deals with stuff like: did the dead person identify with the group, kindred, village, parish, etc.

while he/she lived? If the dead did not identify with the group, there are difficulties in handling the burial of the person since most groups have welfare and benefits of members.

Some people argue against the burial of such person because "he who did not identify with us alive should not be identified with us at death because we are not vultures that eat corpses" - they would say. And such burials will become problematic.

Challenges arising from participation: Participation talks about how a registered member of a group is involved in the activities of that group. Group activities may include things like meetings, social functions, and monetary commitments.

Some people might just want to "fulfill all righteousness" and get themselves registered in the group's index. And that would be it, because beyond that registration, the person does nothing else. Those who argue against burial of someone who did not go to meetings, attend group functions or pay debts, levies, or donations are often anchored on the proverbial "ana-esi n'ulo mara mma puo n'ama" because "oka mma n'ama", is very bad.

Challenges arising from pagan rituals: there are some challenges arising from pagan rituals. In some places, the dead are never buried until some pagan rituals are performed. Such rituals include: igba afa, ivu odu, ije n'ugegbe - that is performance of some divination to verify if the dead died of a natural cause or if the dead should be buried or not. Such rituals pose strong challenges in Christian burial. And oftentimes, make Christians refuse the burial of such persons.

The truth is that some parishes even in our diocese are divided over the burial of the dead. Particular laws of local Church, and of course, pastoral reasons may make a difference in the process of how dead Christians are buried. But it is recommended that all those who are baptized and catechumens should be buried (Canon 1176 1).

Conditions that may affect Christian burial

However, Can. 1184 1 states clearly:

Unless they gave some signs of repentance before death, the following must be deprived of ecclesiastical funerals:

1. Notorious apostates, heretics, and schismatics;

2. Those who chose the cremation of their bodies for reasons contrary to Christian faith;

3. Other manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful.

2. If any doubt occurs, the local ordinary is to be consulted, and his judgment must be followed.

Can. 1185: Any funeral Mass must also be denied a person who is excluded from ecclesiastical funerals.

It is based on the above stipulations of the Code of the Canon Law that it becomes clear that certain dead persons may be denied Christian burial. And there would be moral justifications to do so if the condition of any deceased falls under the ones noted above.

However, as Christians we are challenged by the profound benevolence of Judas Maccabaeus (2 Maccabees 12) who upon discovering that some of his slain soldiers died under apostasy, yet he took up collections to offer prayers for them.

As our Bishop would say, while there may be conditions that may deny someone the opportunities of Christian burial, we can at least pray for the dead.

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